The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Richard Zenith, Leigh Montville, and Debbie Macomber.
The life of Shirley Jackson (1916–1965)—as a mother and a writer—emerges in vivid detail in this collection of correspondence, edited by her son Hyman (Let Me Tell You). The letters begin with Jackson at college writing to her future husband, Stanley Hyman. As the couple marries and starts a family, missives describe her burgeoning writing career and the comic escapades of being a mother. Primarily written to her agent and parents, the letters hit a high note in 1953, when the then-bestselling author and mother of four wrote to her parents that it was “the best year we’ve ever known.” But by 1955, Jackson’s downhill slide had begun: she got colitis and her health was failing, her marriage began to collapse, and her agoraphobia worsened. Two poignant letters were left unsent: one to Stanley, outlining the pain his womanizing, disregard, and mockery caused her—“indifference breeds indifference”—and another to her parents, reacting to their criticism of her appearance. Her cartoons, one of the most charming elements of the collection, also chronicle a marriage in decline. Full of wit and heartbreak, this volume shines, and Jackson’s singular prose never fails to entertain.
Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) contained a multitude of adventurous personalities despite his staid lifestyle, according to translator Zenith (The Selected Prose of Fernando Pessoa) in this gloriously labyrinthine biography. Zenith recaps the outwardly uneventful existence of Pessoa, who published only a fraction of his writing before his death, had one brief romance, extolled the virtue of “doing nothing in life,” and ended one of his last poems with the summation, “Give me more wine, because life is nothing.” But while Pessoa may have been light on worldly experience, Zenith proves he had an exuberant intellectual life that played out through the various pen-name personae he used to adopt radically diverging poetic styles, explore homoerotic themes, invent literary movements—including “sensationism” and “swampism”—and mock himself in print. Zenith elegantly conveys Pessoa’s eccentricity (he immersed himself in astrology and spiritualism and exasperated his girlfriend by impersonating his diffident alter ego Álvaro de Campos on dates) while making him an exemplar of the fragmented consciousness of a modernity that has “disabused us of whatever harmonious wholes we once cherished.” Zenith’s dynamic prose, deep erudition, and incisive readings of Pessoa’s poetry make for a meticulous portrait of one artist’s brilliant and bewildering inner world.
Tall Men, Short Shorts: The 1969 NBA Finals: Wilt, Russ, Lakers, Celtics, and a Very Young Sports Reporter
Sportswriter Montville (Sting Like a Bee) masterfully combines memoir and sports history in this thrilling deep dive into a legendary NBA championship battle. As a 24-year-old novice reporter for the Boston Globe in 1969, he had a first-row seat to an epic duel that went the full seven games and pitted Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics against Wilt Chamberlain’s Los Angeles Lakers. The Celtics, Montville writes, were “at the end of their dominance”—they’d finished fourth in their division, and their leader, Russell, was playing his final year. The Lakers, meanwhile, had just brought on Chamberlain, who many considered the “most stupendous” player in the league. Historically, the Lakers had routinely been bested by the Celtics, but the L.A. team’s two games to none lead at the outset of the Finals gave them the upper hand. Instead, Boston won by two points in the seventh game, with Chamberlain injured on the bench in the final, crucial minutes. Montville recounts his race against “the tightest of deadlines” to file game reports—including the first game’s “53 beautiful backcourt points” scored by Jerry West—that he hoped would catapult his career. In vividly evoking the ups and downs that led to this monumental match-up, Montville paints a humanizing portrait of the game. This is another success for a gifted writer.
Barely ever stopping for a breath, this sci-fi adventure comedy (adapted from the popular podcast) bounds from one escapade to another while keeping up a running satirical patter. The setting is an alien planet where human settlers are divided between cosseted urbanites living in corporate-controlled domed cities and those roughing it out in the “Brush” where mutant Imps roam free. In the Fairhaven dome, Morgan is a onetime “Brush Baby” who uses her knife skills to kill the occasional Imp when it sneaks into the dome. She, her roommate Annie (a casually polyamorous bespoke drug manufacturer), ex-boyfriend and parkour enthusiast Van (widely beloved “Even with the unfortunate toe rings”), and lovable loser Mitch get sucked into a conspiracy involving an app for gig-economy Imp killers called Huntr. The blow-out fight scenes—drawn by Cliff with a fizz-bomb energy that recalls his similarly caffeinated Delilah Dirk series—come fast and furious and are littered with sarcastic one-liners and snarky takes on everything from John Mayer to TGI Fridays, book club wine moms, Frasier, CrossFit, and bearded podcast dudes with “hot takes” (“It’s time for a male Wonder Woman!”). The critique of the gig economy is just discernible beneath the smashmouth confrontations, and the relationship comedy (tangled on-again, off-again connections and flirtations throughout) is surprisingly earnest. It’s a recklessly fun, hoot and holler of a ride.
Set in the 22nd century, this exceptional mystery-SF hybrid from McKinney (The Tattoo), a trilogy kickoff, boasts impressive worldbuilding and a classic morally compromised lead thrust into a high-stakes homicide investigation. In 2102, Earth was almost destroyed by an asteroid, but the brilliant scientist who detected it, Akira Kimura, was also able to invent a cosmic ray that prevented the disaster. Forty years later, she contacts her former head of security, an unnamed investigator with a unique form of synesthesia, now on the police force, because she fears her life is in danger. After the investigator arrives in her underwater home at the bottom of the world’s largest seascraper, deadly solar flares having led many to seek safe havens in the oceans, he sees green, a sign for him of murder, coming from the sealed hibernation chamber humans have been using to rejuvenate themselves. Inside, he’s shocked to find Akira’s frozen and cut-up corpse. The path toward the truth behind the murder is satisfyingly complex, yielding a logical, if gut-wrenching, solution. Comparisons to Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the inspiration for the movie Blade Runner, are warranted.
Bestseller Macomber (Cottage by the Sea) wows with this heartwarming romance between middle-aged divorcées. Six years after Julia Jones’s divorce from her husband of 31 years, Julia, now approaching her 60th birthday, is “easing into retirement.” She’s sold her interior design business and now works there part-time as a consultant while living in a Seattle condo. Though Julia misses the companionship of marriage, she resists the matchmaking efforts of her sister, Amanda, and resolves to give up dating after one too many disappointments. Then Julia meets Heath Wilson in the exercise room of her building, and they bond over disastrous experiences of postdivorce dating. As their relationship evolves from shared coffees to long dinners, romance blossoms—until Julia has a dream that she believes to be prophetic of trouble ahead. Heath tries to reassure her—but after Heath’s son Michael shares a startling revelation about Julia and her daughters with Heath, both Heath and Julia must weigh their relationship against the displeasure of their adult children. Macomber keeps her well-shaded, believable characters at the heart of this seamlessly plotted novel as she probes the nuances of familial relationships and the agelessness of romance. This deeply emotional tale proves it’s never too late for love.
Bestsellers Webb and Mann (Mastering Fear: A Navy SEAL’s Guide) effortlessly transition into fiction with this nail-biter set aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, which is about to leave the Persian Gulf and return to the States. Since a deadly helicopter accident, morale has been low aboard the aircraft carrier. Then a crew member apparently commits suicide by jumping off the ship, followed by a second similar death six days later. Both left typed notes, raising the possibility that a murderer is responsible. Attention focuses on Finn, a Navy SEAL who arrived shortly before the first fatality. Suspecting foul play, Finn investigates, but he’s unsettled by his loss of memory around the times of the fatalities, as well as by his last operation, in which his team failed to stop a terror cell from massacring civilians in Yemen. The authors effectively integrate former Navy SEAL Webb's military experiences into the plot, making every detail ring true. That more thrillers are to come from these authors will be welcome news to readers who appreciate carefully plotted and intelligent suspense.
In Edgar finalist Atkins’s exceptional 11th crime thriller featuring Tibbehah County, Miss., Sheriff Quinn Colson (after 2020’s The Revelators), Colson’s complex family past complicates a murder investigation. Gina Byrd, a drug addict who was a classmate of Colson’s, is reported missing by her boyfriend after he finds some bloody clothes near her trailer. When Byrd’s dismembered remains turn up covered in bleach and stuffed into a barrel, Byrd’s 17-year-old daughter, TJ, who recently beat up her mother, is a natural suspect. TJ is reluctant to trust Colson, because the previous sheriff, Hamp Beckett, Colson’s uncle, was rumored to have killed her father, and fears she’s being framed. TJ flees town along with her nine-year-old brother, John Wesley, and her boyfriend, pursued by Colson’s friend and former subordinate, Lillie Virgil, now a deputy U.S. Marshal. Atkins artfully alternates between that pursuit and Colson’s search for the people he believes slaughtered Byrd. The diverse cast of characters and their intricate relationships elevate this above most other gritty crime novels. Atkins is writing at the top of his game.
Krishna and Northington bring together 16 diverse retellings of Arthurian legend to create an anthology of breathtaking breadth, depth, and creativity. Daniel M. Lavery’s “How, After Long Fighting, Galehaut Was Overcome by Lancelot Yet Was Not Slain and Made Great Speed to Yield to Friendship; Or, Galehaut, the Knight of the Forfeit” is an utter revelation that casts the concept of chivalry in a new light. Other standouts include Waubgeshig Rice’s moving, gorgeous “Heartbeat,” about an Anishinaabe preteen named Art who unearths a stone to find long-hidden ancestral drums; Jessica Plummer’s hilarious “Flat White,” in which the Lady of Shalott acts as Lancelot’s barista; Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s haunting, understated “A Shadow in Amber,” which follows a nameless narrator as she obsesses over Lancelot, whose illegally trafficked memories she pays to experience; and Alexander Chee’s “Little Green Men,” a Mars-set exploration of reality TV celebrity culture filtered through “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” There isn’t a bad story in the bunch, and the anthology offers such a variety of style, theme, and genre that die-hard Arthurian fans and more casual readers will be equally delighted. This is a must-read.